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The root of evil

Published March 19, 2013 5:48 pm

Seeing that money poisons politics
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utahns have not, so far, heard any of John Swallow's fellow Republicans calling upon him to resign or take a leave of absence while state and federal officials continue their look into allegations of ethics and campaign law violations that have been laid at the attorney general's doorstep. Even though he should.

What they have seen, though, is a stunning event, potentially a huge silver lining to go with the dark cloud of the Swallow scandals. And that is that it has apparently dawned on many legislators that money can poison politics.

During the legislative session that ended last week, lawmakers moved with great speed to pass three bills that would likely never even have been drafted were they not taking the charges against Swallow seriously.

And legislators are even set to take a look at a significant constitutional change, the possibility that the Utah attorney general should be appointed, rather than elected. Why? Because candidates for office have to raise money. And the act of raising money might lead to the reality, or the appearance, of an attorney general doing favors for contributors.

In literally the final hours of the session, lawmakers addressed a serious flaw in the state's election laws. That flaw was that complaints alleging violation of those laws are supposed to be referred to the attorney general. But what if, as is the case with a petition filed last week, the target of the requested investigation is the attorney general?

To answer that, lawmakers quickly drafted, proposed and adopted — unanimously — SB289. That bill, once Gov. Gary Herbert signs it into law, will allow the lieutenant governor to appoint a special counsel to check out the validity of any accusations leveled against an attorney general.

Another bill that passed would prohibit all top executive branch officials from doing the kind of moonlighting that Swallow was doing, before he was elected but while he was serving as the chief deputy to his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff. And another would establish a commission to look into alleged ethics violations by the governor, lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer and, yes, attorney general.

All of these actions, taken and proposed, make no sense unless one grants the argument that the most problematic part of our political process is the need for politicians of all stripes, at all levels, to hold out their tin cup in search of campaign funds.

The next step would be for our elected officials to decide to not just worry about the corruption of money as it concerns the attorney general, but to consider serious, and enforced, contribution limits for all candidates.